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City of Cleveland Preparing to Distribute First Round of COVID-19 Vaccines

a photo of Cleveland city hall
Matt Richmond
The city is receiving 4,000 doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.

The City of Cleveland is rolling out the first phase of its coronavirus vaccine distribution plan. The initial round will begin Thursday with a focus on EMTs, firefighters and Airport Fire & Rescue workers.

The city is receiving 4,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine, said Interim Public Health Director Brian Kimball. That vaccine can be stored in regular laboratory refrigeration as opposed to the subzero temperatures needed for the Pfizer vaccine, which was the first to receive emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration.

The vaccines require two doses and officials plan to administer the first doses to roughly 1,200 eligible emergency responders in a six-day period, Kimball said. The plan is to expand to cover other populations later.

“We are also focused on persons with developmental disabilities, those with mental health disorders, including substance abuse disorders,” Kimball said. “Those persons living in group homes, residential facilities or centers and staff in those locations.”

Many nursing homes and healthcare providers are working with other distributors such as CVS and Walgreens to administer vaccines, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson said, and will not be part of the city’s distribution plan. But the city will work to assist centers not involved in those other programs, Jackson said.

Jackson said he, too, will be vaccinated, but will wait until it's his turn. He and other city officials urged residents to continue following health and safety guidelines as vaccine distribution progresses.

“Even with the vaccine becoming available, the pandemic will not be over,” Jackson said. “It is very important that we continue, even with the vaccine, to follow the basic rules.”

The city is preparing to create the infrastructure necessary to distribute the vaccine, Jackson said, but that effort comes with an additional cost. Officials hadn’t anticipated that expense, he said.

“But that being said, we will set this up, we will move ahead,” Jackson said. “Our anticipation and our hope is that next year, additional money will be coming in to state and local governments.”

Neither local nor state governments will receive additional federal aid from the recently approved stimulus package. But Cleveland will still finish out the year with a balanced budget, Jackson said, and his office will present a balanced budget proposal for 2021.

That budget will have less revenue due to the pandemic, he said.

“We know the cost will probably exceed that revenue, so we’re looking at how we carry over enough money to fill that gap into next year,” Jackson said.

Jackson also addressed concerns about utility shutoffs during the Tuesday press conference. The city issued notices Dec. 1 alerting residents about the amounts they owed and warning them of potential shutoffs as a moratorium on those shutoffs, prompted by the pandemic, was expiring.

Many residents who had not paid their bills prior to the COVID-19 pandemic were reconnected during the moratorium on shutoffs, Jackson said. Programs are available to assist those who are unable to pay their bills in full due to the financial impact of the virus, he said.

“We work with them to identify programs to help them pay and as we look at this and we review this on a monthly basis, we may alter that one way or another,” Jackson said.

Asked about whether residents who are behind on their bills with city-owned utilities may face shutoffs in the winter months, the mayor said he believed the city's policy was to not do shutoffs during the winter. 

"I don't know for sure, but I'll check on that," he said.

The pandemic also has had an impact on staffing in the Cleveland Division of Police, where 160 are sidelined due to COVID-19, Jackson said. Asked how the city would handle it, the mayor said, "we just step up."

Cleveland has had more than 17,000 cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, Jackson said, including 180 deaths.

Glenn Forbes contributed to this article.

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